In what has been a hot summer in the fight for marriage equality in the Sunshine State, the Second District Court of Appeal today asked the Florida Supreme Court (FSC) to decide whether the state's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage is Constitutional.
A clerk at the office of the Florida Supreme Court confirmed to New Times that the case was filed today. If the justices at the FSC agree to take up the case, they will hear a case involving two Tampa women, Mariama Shaw and Keiba Shaw, who were married in Massachusetts and are now seeking a divorce.
A district judge in Hillsborough County rejected the couple's divorce request, citing the state's ban on same-sex marriage (state law doesn't legally recognize any relationship between people of the same sex).
However, the Tampa-area couple then appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal, which today opted out of making an official ruling and passed the case on to FSC. Ten judges in the Second District Court of Appeal agreed not to decide the case because they believe the issue was of such "great public importance," their opinion says, that it should go directly to the FSC.
According to LGBT rights activists across Florida, the turn of events is a sign of hope that marriage equality may soon come to the Sunshine State.
"This is moving along faster than we anticipated, and I'm just so happy and joyful, because there's been too much pain and suffering for so many couples across Florida," said Aaron Huntsman, who along with his partner, William "Lee" Jones, is challenging the state's ban in Monroe County. "It's time for this to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court, now. It's only a matter of time because now we have the Florida Supreme that's hopefully going to hear the case for marriage equality. This is all very exciting."
LGBT rights' supporters are happy with today's news because if the FSC rules in favor of marriage equality, it would provide immediate relief to many families.
"Another day that this ban exists is another day of injustice and another day of inequality, period," said Mark Ebenhoch, media director for Huntsman and Jones. "Life goes on daily, people get sick, people die, and they need to have the legal protections that other couples have. We're all equal, and we need to be equal under the law. This is ten years overdue."
The Key West couple, whose case for marriage equality was the first of many other similar cases to win in a Florida circuit court, are excited that so much progress has been made for LGBT rights this summer. These sentiments resonate with Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, who are also challenging the state's ban in Miami-Dade County.
"This is great news! I'm hopeful the Florida Supreme Court understands how important it is for marriage equality to exist now in Florida," said Vanessa, who along with her partner has adopted a 5-year-old son. "Our family deserves the same dignity as everyone else here in Florida."
If the FSC takes up the Shaw case and rules in favor of marriage equality, then it would mean the legal recognition of same-sex marriage across Florida -- a decision that would stand unless the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States says otherwise.
"Love is love," said Lee Jones, with tears of joy rolling down his face.
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